Celebrating Seniors – James Darren Turns 80

Gidget’sMoondoggie” has turned 80! Recording star, actor, and director – and now a new octogenarian senior citizen – James Darren (nee James Ercolani) was born June 8, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

james darren 1971, mooch goes to holly, 1970s movies, american actorCelebrating Darren’s 80th birthday with his story and some vintage music videos/clips: Gidget, The Next Best Thing To Love, Goodbye Cruel World, Because You’re Mine, All.

(James Darren Photo: Mooch Goes to Hollywood, 1971 | Public Domain Movie / Internet Archive)

James Darren was interested in acting from an early age, and began steadily dating girlfriend Gloria Terlitsky as a young teenager. Actor Eddie Fisher was friends with a neighbour’s son in Philadelphia, and the success of this local boy inspired James to pursue acting.

At age 16, young James dropped out of school, began traveling back and forth from Philadelphia to New York City to study acting with Stella Adler, and changed his last name to Darren for professional reasons.

While working in the Brill Building in New York City, he met entertainer and singer Tony Orlando; they became friends. James Darren arranged to have professional photographs taken so he could get more acting jobs, and the photographer’s secretary asked him if he wanted film work. She arranged for him to meet casting director Joyce Selznick (niece of legendary movie producer David O. Selznick); a week later James Darren had a contract with Columbia Pictures.

James Darren told Los Angeles Magazine that he went to Los Angeles in 1954 to get discovered, where he met and became good friends with actor John Saxon. John Saxon and Darren would hang out with actor James Dean; none of them were as yet stars, and both James Dean and James Darren shared a love of cars and motorcycles.

In 1955 teenagers James Darren and Gloria Terlitsky eloped because her Jewish parents disapproved of the Catholic Darren. Their son James Jr. (Jimmy) was born in December 1956.

Roles in movies started to come his way beginning with Rumble on the Docks (1956), which generated fan mail and brought him to the attention of the movie studio. Below, the movie trailer for Rumble on the Docks features James Dean, Laurie Carroll, and Robert Blake.

Darren met and became life-long friends with fellow Italian-American singer Frank Sinatra that year; he would also become lifetime friends with Elvis Presley. James Darren admired both singers and told Classic Bands in 2005 that “Elvis was a friend. We used to play football together. I’ve always been a giant Elvis fan, from day one, before I knew him and still am to this day.”

The western film Gunman’s Walk (1958) in glorious colour, starred veteran character actor Van Heflin and young up-and-comers James Darren, Tab Hunter, and Kathryn Grant. Below, the movie trailer for Gunman’s Walk features Van Heflin, Kathryn Grant, Tab Hunter, Mickey Shaughnessy, and James Darren.

Elvis Presleyjames darren, sandra dee, 1959 movies, gidget, moondoggie, american actor was in the U.S. Army and unavailable to co-star with Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson in a new movie, so the producers cast James Darren as “Moondoggie” in the quintessential young love/beach film Gidget (1959).

When filming for Gidget began in early 1959, Darren told the producers that he could sing. The title track Gidget (1959) written by Fred Karger and Patti Washington, became a #41 hit single for James Darren. 

Right, James Darren with Sandra Dee in a publicity still for Gidget (1959) (Photo: Columbia Pictures | Flickr Angela Glass Some rights reserved)

Below, James Darren and the other beach bums play it cool in the movie trailer for Gidget.

James Darren also sang The Next Best Thing to Love (1959) written by Fred Karger and Stanley Styne, in Gidget (1959). Below, James Darren “Moondoggie” sings The Next Best Thing to Love to Sandra Dee “Gidget” in a clip from the 1959 movie Gidget

By the end of 1959, 23-year-old James Darren had been divorced by Gloria. Gidget had launched his singing career, earning him a recording contract. Gidget also spawned two big-screen movie sequels which Darren also starred in – Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) with Deborah Walley, Michael Callan, Carl Reiner, and Kam Fong (Hawaii Five-O), and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963) with Cindy Carol. Darren didn’t appear in subsequent Gidget made-for-TV movies or the 1965 television series starring Sally Field. Below, Cindy Carol and James Darren in a clip from Gidget Goes to Rome

In February 1960 James Darren married former Miss Denmark 1958, Evy Norlund. Three weeks after their marriage, James Darren took Evy with him to shoot The Guns of Navarrone on location in Rhodes (below). Their sons Christian were born in 1960 and Anthony (Tony) in 1964. (Photo: YouTube | Evy and James Darren’s Honeymoon on Rhodes 1960)

Evy and James Darren are still married and living in the house he purchased in 1966, on Kimridge Road in the Beverly Hills canyon of Los Angeles, California. Darren’s house had previously been owned by film star Audrey Hepburn, and their neighbours included friend Frank Sinatra, Ernie Kovacs, and singer Peggy Lee.

james darren 1959, the donna reed show, buzz berry, shelley fabares, mary stone, american actors, youngerMore movie roles followed for James Darren, including the Korean War movie All the Young Men (1960) starring Alan Ladd and Sidney Poitier; Darren also sang the title track to All the Young Men

The Guns of Navarone (1961) saw James Darren sharing the screen with Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn.

James Darren played different characters when he guest-starred twice on The Donna Reed Show, starring Donna Reed (Donna Stone) and Shelley Fabares (Mary Stone). 

Right, James Darren as Buzz Berry with Shelley Fabares on The Donna Reed Show in 1959. (Photo: ABC Television | Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

James Darren’s biggest hit on the Billboard charts was Goodbye Cruel World (1961), a #3 hit single that sold over a million copies, and was nominated for a Grammy in 1961. Below, James Darren (right) is joined by his younger brother John Darren (born John Ercolani in 1937) as he sings Goodbye Cruel World in a guest-starring scene from The Donna Reed Show (1961).

The following year, James Darren’s single Her Royal Majesty (1962) made it to #6 on the Billboard charts; however, Darren preferred acting to performing live, and focused on his movie career. In the Hawaiian drama Diamond Head (1963), James Darren once again sang the title track and co-starred with Charlton Heston and Yvette Mimieux. His other co-stars in Diamond Head included George Chakiris, France Nuyen, and Kam Fong who had been in Gidget Goes Hawaiian with him.

James Darren was back to acting in lighter fare and co-starred with actress Pamela Tiffin in both The Lively Set (1964), the first of a 7-picture movie deal with Universal, and For Those Who Think Young (1964). Frank Sinatra’s production company was involved in For Those Who Think Young, and Sinatra’s daughter Nancy Sinatra made her acting debut in the movie. James Darren once again sang the movie’s title track in For Those Who Think Young. Below, the movie trailer for The Lively Set features James Darren, Doug McClure, sportscars, and movie love interest Pamela Tiffin.

Because You’re Mine (1965)  was James Darren’s last Top 30 Pop hit. Below, note the 1960’s swimsuit fashions as Darren sings Because You’re Mine.

james darren 1966, the time tunnel, robert colbert, lee meriwether, 1960s tv series, 1960s sci fi, tv showsJames Darren starred in the sci-fi television series The Time Tunnel (1966-1967) along with co-star Robert Colbert, and Lee Meriwether; The Time Tunnel lasted one season.

(The Time Tunnel Cast 1966 Photo: ABC Television | Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

By 1970, television and movie roles were getting scarcer for teen idol James Darren. He met met comedian and actor Buddy Hackett at a Nancy Sinatra show at the Cocoanut Grove in 1970, and they became friends. James Darren accepted an offer from Buddy Hackett to perform with him as his “straight man”. They toured together from 1970-1982 and did shows at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas for most of the year.

In additional to occasional episodic television work during the 1970’s, Darren was a celebrity panelist on Match Game

James Darren had a Top 4 Adult Contemporary chart hit with the single All (1967). Below, a video clip of James Darren set to his hit song All .

Popular TV series T. J. Hooker starring William Shatner as the title character was in it’s second season when James Darren was cast as actress Heather Locklear’s on-screen partner, Officer James Corrigan. Darren appeared on T. J. Hooker for 4 years until it ended in 1986, and directed the last episode – thereby launching a new career for himself as a director. 

Below, James Darren doesn’t look as if he’s aged very much from his younger days as Moondoggie in 1959’s Gidget, to an older 50+ Officer Jim Corrigan in T. J. Hooker, circa 1983-1986.

james darren younger, james darren older, american actor, singer, movies, gidget 1959, television series, tj hooker 1983 to 1986, 50 plus years (Source Photos: YouTube | Gidget 1959 / T. J. Hooker 1983-1986 | Photo Montage  | Senior City)

james darren 2015, american actor, singer, older, senior citizenJames Darren directed many other popular television shows such as Melrose Place, 90210, Hunter, and Walker, Texas Ranger.

He was cast as holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine in the sci-fi series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1998/1999 seasons, exposing James Darren to the children and grandchildren of his prime baby boomer audience from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1980’s.

In 2016, octogenarian senior citizen James Darren can be seen in person for a couple of dates in Las Vegas in July and August, and in Chicago in September. He and wife Evy celebrated their 56th wedding in February.

(James Darren 2015 Photo: Rob DiCaterino | Flickr Some rights reserved)

Still cool senior citizen James Darren treasures his rare, vintage 1958 Porsche 1600 Super Speedster, which he’s had for 40+ years; friend James Dean purchased the exact same model (Dean died in a different Porsche car, a 550 Spyder).

Happy 80th Birthday, James Darren!

anita hamilton, senior city, copywriter, creative writer, research, hamilton ontario, sales, marketing, copy writing, elderly parents, local housing, local products, local servicesAbout The Author

Baby boomer Anita Hamilton lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her family and 3 mini-dachshund minions. She’s a lifelong voracious reader who enjoys researching and has extensive experience in sales, marketing and copy writing. Senior City was inspired when she had difficulty finding local housing, products and services online for her elderly parents.

35 thoughts on “Celebrating Seniors – James Darren Turns 80”

  1. Sandra says:

    Happy Birthday Baby, I Have all Budget Movies, just Watched 2 of them , they take me back to my youth great feeling ,it was a different time xoxo

    1. Tim Kline says:

      I liked James Darren best in Time Tunnel. He did a fantastic job on that show. I also like his hit song “goodbye cruel world” Time Tunnel should have lasted much longer than it did. I guess that’s what you get with Irwin Allen. only a few short years EG;
      “Lost in Space” 3 seasons. Both shows could have gone on many more seasons.
      Good Luck to James, Would like to see you on TV again, perhaps on a TV special.

  2. Symmi DeFrancesco says:

    Happy Birthday my ONLY celebrity crush, from high school days…So glad I had a very chance meeting, with you in Warwick, NY in the late 70’s, when you were on your way to appearing at the Playboy Club nearby. I never ever thought I would see you in the flesh as they say…(I don’t follow celebrities)..It was a thrill & you looked as wonderful in person as you do “on stage” ) God Bless always.

  3. Marc Uyttenhove says:

    Happy birthday, James. In Belgium, we know you from ‘ Punch and Judy’ and ‘Goodbye cruel world’…

  4. Jeanne says:

    Happy birthday James.
    i met you and your wife once in center city philly
    you were buying a hot dog
    i said can you please pass me the mustard moondoggie
    you passed it to me and said I was showing my age., by knowing that.
    Many more birthdays and good health

  5. Jennifer Ahlstrom says:

    Happy birthday and wishes for many more. You made my teen years joyful with your music and movies. (Especially Gidget!) Thank you. Fondly, Jennifer

  6. Donna Muir says:

    All I can say is “Thank goodness” Elvis wasn’t available to appear as Moondoggie in the Gidget movie! I was about ten years old when I saw that film for the first time and it didn’t take more than one look at you and I was over the moon for you, James. Oh, how I would dream about changing places with Sandra Dee! It may sound corny but you got me through some very hard times as a kid and, later, as a teen. Congratulations and belated best wishes on celebrating your 80th birthday. You’re still the dreamboat I fell for back in the day. May the years ahead be kind to you and all those you hold dear to your heart. P. S. I hope you received the letter that I sent to you in care of Norm’s. Most sincerely, Donna M.

  7. Rebekah gwen deatherage says:

    Your life has given us music for our souls…beautiful face..great smile
    Talented actor…and great singer…family man…enduring husband…
    Theres no such thing as the next best to love….i wore out my gidget record
    Your picture still on my wall…im 66 ….my husband hates you…..wow i love your cars
    We had an old 56 chevy belair…still have it…different world….gentler life….
    Keep singing…dont drive too fast kid….do smile alot…moondoggie…vaya con dios

  8. Diane F. says:

    Happy birthday ! 80 years old a successful career , marriage and children ! I was pleased to read about your career and all the different aspects of the business you were involved in, directing, t.v. series, singing ! I am a 59 year old woman that grew up in Palos Verdes on the beach and watching fun movies like your Gidget movies ! Saw you once performing in Disneyland. Now I am interested in how you were lucky to have the career marriage etc. you should partner with Cristina Ferrare and do a talk show tell us fans about your Hollywood do some signing maybe even bring on some new talent I read about what your feelings are about rap music! Good luck to you , love the picture of you and your Porsche ! Stay healthy and God Bless!

  9. Anne L. Wilson says:

    Hello good looking! I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your performance in Deep Space Nine! It’s about the third or forth time I;ve watched the series on Netflix. I’ve just finished it tonight. You really brought the series a lot of class! I wish they had let you act a little more. You are 80 and I just turned 75, so we have a lot in common.
    I’m impressed you have been married to the same person for so long in Hollywood! It says a lot about what a nice person you are. You really look wonderful for any age!! I would love to see you acting in something new.
    Take care of yourself, Anne W.

  10. Jay Bear says:

    My very 1st crush…I used to pre-tend play that I was you playing tennis dressed in all white…You looked just like my Italian father, makes sense now…glad to see you are still doing well!

  11. derek says:

    James Darren looks a bit like John Saxon in that screen shot above with himself and his brother. Perhaps that had something to do with the two of them becoming friends! lol

  12. Anthony says:

    Hi jimmy, its tony g from south philly! Remember flying the gas models at the stadium. Lived on 13th and porter. I hope johnny is well! Tony G

  13. MariaElena Hernandez-Valverde says:

    My dearest Darren, boy you where my first crush. I loved you for years. What was really funny is that my daughter and I watched Gidget every single year while she was growing up. She wanted to be a singer and got really close, but she is still trying. Once when she was just 16, we saw you at Disneyland and I felt my heart skip a beat. You still had it then, and I’m sure your wife would agree, you still have it now.
    You are just a sexy Senor.
    MariaElena

  14. Peggy Ross (MacDonald) says:

    I don’t know if you will remember me, but I lived across the street from you and your lovely wife Evy, sons Christian and Anthony in Beverly Hills off Coldwater Canyon. I was 8 or 9 years old when I babysat for your sons Christian and Anthony. I have 2 older sisters. My parents have passed away, but I was recently back in the neighborhood, and looked over at your former home, and memories came flooding back, I also remember going to your new home after you moved, where I went to a birthday party for Christian.
    I hope you, Evy, and your sons are well. I saw your recent photos; you look wonderful. I loved your movies, and the TV show The Time Tunnel.
    I just wanted to connect, and wish you all the best.
    Warm regards,
    Peggy Ross

  15. Dawn says:

    Happy 80th Birthday James, you still look fantastic. I had a crush on you as teen and still think your a dreamboat. Have several of your movies and records and enjoy watching the movies and listening to the records. May God bless you and yours always.

    Dawn

  16. Dawn says:

    Happy Birthday James, I have all the Gidget movies you made and the series T.J.Hooker, along with some of your other movies, I loved them then and still love them today at the age of 73. Life was better back when we were young, you were a dreamboat then and still look very handsome today. I love to listen to your records you have such a beautiful voice.

    Dawn

  17. CK, Amager says:

    Stort og hjerteligt TILLYKKE med 57-års bryllupsdagen, der var den 6. februar, til dig og hustru Evy Nordlund.
    I think you understand a little Danish after all these years together ……

  18. Linda says:

    Happy birthday James. I was only a child, but had posters of you in my room as Moondoggie. Many years later I ran into your sister ( or sister in law) at LAX and she showed me pictures of your beautiful family. I watched everything you were in, and Time Tunnel was a must as a kid.

    Thanks for the memories.

  19. Carolyn Stiverson maiden name Zambito says:

    Happy Birthday, Jimmy….followed and loved you since I saw you in Gidget!!!

  20. Jocelyn Calig says:

    Dear James,
    Just saw this post, and didn’t realize you had a milestone birthday…so Happy Belated Birthday!
    When I was 9, I saw “Gidget Goes Hawaiian”, and thought you were the most handsome man I had ever seen. The next day, my father drove all over town to every record store (1961) to find the “45” of the title song. He finally found it, and it remains a special memory to this day, as he passed away several months later. Also my mother met you at a Standard Brands store in Granada Hills. You must have been filming for some candid camera type show. She said you were trying to sell her paint with vitamin E in it.
    In closing I just want to thank you for the enjoyment and daydreams I have had
    throughout my life “because of you”!
    Jocelyn

  21. Donna says:

    Happy birthday moondoggiiii. Even though I am African American. You were my first love and always will be. The life you have lived I knew you would. Such a Lucky and blessed wife. Still my heart.

  22. Pauline Goodinson says:

    I remember seeing you at the Royal York hotel in the 70s I came back stage and you were nice ,polite and a real gentleman I will never forget that. Happy belated Birthday x

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